My name is Margaret Van Clief, and I am the outreach and education coordinator for The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve. I like to visit offbeat places. I love a side road. I relish the discovery of treasures like the cross in the marsh at Red Bank; the view from the deck at The Island House in Wachapreague; the nation’s oldest continuously kept court records in Eastville. One of my favorite things about living on Virginia’s Eastern Shore is that almost everything is off the beaten path.
After six happy years working locally in marine restoration with The Nature Conservancy in the cold months and kayaking with SouthEast Expeditions in the warm, I landed this, my actual dream job. Talk about side roads. Nearly everything I do takes place down a side road and sometimes down a side creek! The properties The Nature Conservancy protects here offer some interesting ways for you to experience some very wild places whether you’re a local or vacationing on the Shore.
For starters, the William B. Cummings Birding and Wildlife Trail just east of Nassawadox is free and open daily, so you can always come for a walk. Beginning near our office on Brownsville Preserve, the 3 ¼ mile round trip trail passes through a variety of native habitats, from wooded uplands to open salt marsh. There are geocaches to be found and an overlook that provides views out toward Hog and Parramore Islands, two of the string of barrier islands that protect the peninsula’s seaside. And. So. Much. Wildlife.
This is a great stroll to do in a couple of hours, or bring a picnic and take half a day. Bicyclists are welcomed, and leashed dogs are, too. Grab a printed guide at the trailhead or download our recorded audio companion to put “a naturalist in your pocket” before you hit the trail. Guided tours with conservancy staff and local naturalists are also offered throughout the year. You can get a calendar of events and sign up for our quarterly e-newsletter by emailing me.
Volunteering on vacation (or anytime) is a great way to connect with a place, not to mention how much you get to brag about yourself for doing it. The Conservancy has loads of volunteer opportunities all over the Shore. Maybe you’d like to play a role in local oyster restoration while you’re here. Check ahead of your trip to see if there will be any “oyster castle” projects scheduled in the area.
Looking to get a free ride to a distant shoreline, albeit to work and sweat while you’re out there? Join a barrier island cleanup crew or help coastal scientist, Alex Wilke and her team mark nesting habitat for endangered shorebirds. Like oyster roasts? Join a shell recycling team and enjoy all-you-can-eat seafood while collecting discarded clam and oyster shells for use in rebuilding local oyster reefs. And don’t forget the chance each spring to grab a snorkel, put on a wetsuit, and join coastal scientist, Bo Lusk and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in the largest seagrass restoration project on the planet! There are garden work days, trail maintenance work days, tree planting work days – you name it. Some folks even plan their vacations around volunteering with us! To sign up or get information on volunteer projects near where you’ll be, email Jen Dalke, and tell her I sent you!
The trailhead and conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve office are located at 11332 Brownsville Road, Nassawadox, VA. Please feel free to call us at (757) 442-3049 with any questions. I hope to see you around!
Learn more about The Virginia Coast Reserve.
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